When CNN posted the video of the right-fisted punch thrown by Republican State Sen. Charles Bishop in the Alabama State Senate last week, reports say that this clip was downloaded more often than the clip of Paris Hilton being ushered back to an L.A. Jail.
The Alabama Legislature had officially become national "theatre." With such theatrics it is easy to write the legislative session of 2007 off with a jeer and a smear, but it wasn’t what was said about Bishop’s momma that should get the last word by Republican "doomsdayers."
The Alabama Legislature by law meets 30 legislative days in 105 calendar days. A Republican-led Senate coalition led a 27 of 30 legislative day slow-down (filibuster) over "unfair Senate operating rules" that in fact are rules less draconian than those offered by Gov. Bob Riley and his coalition as they attempted to organize the Senate last December. No Alabama governor has ever been so involved in attempting to wrestle power away from elected Senators than did Bob Riley prior to this session. But Democrats, true to bi-partisan cooperation, accommodated the governor on his agenda at every possible turn in 2007.
In spite of the ugliness, the rancor, and editorial dismay expressed towards the legislature in 2007 (some well-deserved), strong leadership and level headedness by some veteran Democratic members helped salvage some strong accomplishments from an otherwise potentially time wasted, expensive, and embarrassing 2007 session.
The businesslike, professional and methodical leadership of Democratic Speaker Seth Hammett saw a productive and efficient House of Representatives throughout the 2007 session despite the Senate stalemate. Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom’s parliamentary forcefulness finally broke the log jam in the Senate’s final days paving the way for the passage of state budgets, bonds issues, and successful local bills such as local bills for Lee County’s school systems. These actions denied Gov. Riley of calling a Special Session at taxpayer expense so he could chastise the Democratic majority.
The results of these efforts were record balanced budgets passed for education of $6.7 billion that includes teacher pay raises, more classroom computers, more school nurses and a $1.8 billion General Fund that funds Medicaid, veterans, state troopers among other items. Also, a record $1.1 billion school construction bond issue was passed from which every school system and college in East Alabama will benefit. Democrats sponsored and helped pass economic incentive packages that paved the way for the landing of the largest project in Alabama history - ThyssenKrupp, a $3 billion-plus investment by private industry.
In fact, over 300 bills and resolutions were enacted in the 2007 Session of the Alabama Legislature!
Virtually every single Democratic covenant with Alabama agenda item was introduced in the first few weeks in the House.
Many passed the full House and Senate committees quickly, such as the Democratic version of PAC-to-PAC transfer legislation, only to die due to the Republican stall. Republican leaning interest groups and lobbyists also helped to kill a bill sponsored by Democrats Demetrius Newton and Ted Little calling for a Constitutional Convention to rewrite Alabama’s Constitution.
Bishop’s swing was thought to be a crowning blow, but when the swelling of embarrassment goes down, the Chicken Littles are wrong, the sky did not fall in the 2007 legislative session.
Egos need to heal, legislators need to visit with their constituents.
It won’t make a CNN news clip, but the salvaged success of 2007 Legislative is ultimately found in the improvements made for the K-12 classrooms, funds for rebuilding of Enterprise High School and new industries and better jobs for Alabama’s citizens.
Joe Turnham is Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party and lives in Auburn.